College students, consider yourselves warned: Your school may be watching you online.
Twenty-seven-year old Millersville University student Stacy Snyder found out the hard way. Snyder was just one day away from graduating last year when Millersville administrators informed her that due to “unprofessional” conduct, the school was refusing to issue her bachelor’s degree in education.
The “unprofessional” conduct preventing Snyder’s graduation? A picture of Snyder wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup at a 2005 Halloween party, posted on Snyder’s private page on popular social-networking site MySpace.com.
The seemingly harmless picture, which bore the caption “Drunken Pirate,” prompted Millersville administrators to deny Snyder her education degree and teaching certificate last May, according to Lancaster, Pa.’s Intelligencer Journal. College officials confronted Snyder about the picture the day before Millersville’s graduation after discovering it online.
Despite the fact that Snyder had received good marks from instructors—including a “superior” rating in professionalism and “exemplary” all-around performance—instructors accused her of “incompetence.” Even though Snyder had done nothing wrong—last time we checked, adults over 21 may legally drink alcohol—Snyder still was refused her degree.
Inexplicably, Millersville awarded Snyder a degree in English instead. But that didn’t stop Snyder from filing a federal lawsuit this April, alleging that by denying Snyder her degree without a hearing regarding the decision, Millersville administrators violated Snyder’s constitutional right to due process. Snyder’s suit requested her education degree, her teaching certificate, and $75,000 in compensatory damages as relief. It appears to have worked: Federal district court documents filed last Tuesday indicate an out-of-court settlement between the parties is imminent.
Unfortunately, Snyder’s story is not unique. Increasingly, university administrators are monitoring student speech and activity online. While students may think their MySpace.com or Facebook.com posts are private, they aren’t. Posting the wrong thing online—even if it’s legal or constitutionally protected—can get you in a world of trouble.